Pemex may join offshore oil race in Cuba




Potentially joining seven other foreign oil companies as a leaseholder of offshore blocks in Cuban waters, Mexico’s state oil company is in negotiations with Cuban officials over a joint production agreement, La Jornada first reported.

As he was leaving Havana after a one-day visit, Mexican President Felipe Calderón said that Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and Cubapetróleo (Cupet) signed a “non-binding letter of intent” under which Pemex will study the possibility of entering offshore exploration in Cuba.

With this agreement, Calderón, who will be leaving office in seven months, effectively left the decision to his successor who will take office in December.

Mexico’s energy ministry later explained that the agreement provides a “road map” for the exploration and production subsidiary of Pemex and Cupet to analyze options, and that a joint workshop in Havana was planned for the near future. 

If an agreement materializes, this would be the first time Pemex is directly active in exploration and production abroad. The political sensitivity of the issue is heightened by the fact that Mexico’s conservative governments since 2000 have been reluctant to challenge the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Officials with Pemex, Mexico’s energy ministry and Mexico’s foreign ministry have been traveling to Havana at least since November to talk about offshore opportunities, according to the Mexican daily. 

Pemex would join Repsol, PdVSA, ONGC, Petronas, Petrovietnam, Sonangol and CNPC as a leaseholder in Cuban waters. Canada’s Sherritt and Petrobras relinquished their leases. Areas still available are located in a triangle bordering on Mexican and U.S. waters (see map).

La Jornada broke the news on the eve of the visit by Calderón, who was in Havana April 11 for a one-day stop. 

Mexican Energy Secretary Jordy Herrera, who accompanied Calderón to Cuba, and Cuban Mining and Energy Minister Tomás Benítez also signed a memorandum of understanding about exchanges of experts, technology and know-how in a broad range of energy issues.

Calderón’s visit, in the last year of his six-year term, had been long expected. A visit in 2009 was canceled after Cuba suspended Mexican flights after a H1N1 flu outbreak in Mexico. The neighbors have since cooperated on migration issues and talked about Cuba’s $500 million debt with Mexico.

 The official visit to Cuba served to “deepen the dialogue on trade exchanges and investments between the two countries,” the presidential office said in a notification to the Mexican Senate. “In the encounter, talks will be about political and migratory affairs, exploitation of joint oil resources, trade and investment, human rights, and Latin American and Caribbean regional integration,” the notice said.

Following a 10-year moratorium signed in 2001, in which the United States and Mexico agreed on not tapping reserves shared by both countries, the two neighbors signed an agreement about joint exploitation of trans-border oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. Mexico has not signed one with Cuba.

As a 9.95-percent shareholder in Spanish oil company Repsol YPF, Pemex is already an indirect participant in Cuban offshore activities. In February, a consortium led by Repsol started exploratory drilling in an area just northwest of Havana. According to La Jornada, the Scarabeo 9 platform recently moved to a location due north of the Cuban capital, from where it is visible.

In September, Pemex invested $1.6 billion to raise its stake in Repsol from 4.8 percent to 9.8 percent, with the idea of creating a strategic partnership. However, Pemex plans to coordinate with another major Repsol shareholder fell apart last fall.

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